Mystery of dead man who stole boy's identity goes unsolved

Published: Nov. 15, 2004 at 2:35 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 15, 2004 at 2:36 PM EST
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EASTLAKE, Ohio - The identity of a man who stole the name of an 8-year-old Texas boy about 25 years ago is likely to remain a mystery.

A Lake County Probate Court judge has ruled that investigators exhausted all efforts in finding out the true name of the man who committed suicide in August 2002.

The man had been living in Eastlake under the name Joseph Newton Chandler III since 1978. He left behind $80,000 in assets, but virtually no credible clues leading to heirs. The money will be turned over to the state next year.

"We probably had 50 or more contacts from Canada to Florida, from Texas to D.C.," said Lt. Tom Doyle, a police detective in this town about 10 miles east of Cleveland. "There were a lot of people out there still clutching hope that they would find their brother, or their father or whoever."

Doyle said the man took on the alias by using a copy of the boy's birth certificate to gain a Social Security card from an office in South Dakota.

The real Joseph Newton Chandler III was killed with his parents in a 1945 car accident in Texas, records show.

Because the boy never received a Social Security card, commonly issued only to adults then, the impostor was able to easily assume the identity of a person who had no surviving close relatives, officials said.

"This guy knew what he was doing," said attorney Jim O'Leary, who represented the executor of the man's estate in the probate proceedings. "You've got to wonder, what terrible thing exactly would you be running from to go to this kind of trouble to conceal your past?"

Doyle said leads on the case all but dried up in the last year.

Soon after reports of the fake Joseph Newton Chandler were published two years ago, callers offered dozens of suggestions of his true identity.

Others made less plausible suggestions, including that it was Jim Morrison of The Doors, who died of a drug overdose in 1971 at age 27, but who many conspiracy theorists believe still lives.

Some suggested it was D.B. Cooper, the hijacker last seen in 1971 as he parachuted with a backpack full of money out of the back end of an airliner over the Pacific Northwest.

Probes by private investigators hired by the court with estate funds turned up no useful information.

The man's secret past stunned those around him.

"I never had any idea, but we really didn't talk about personal things," said Mike Onderisin, the executor of the man's estate who worked with him at Lubrizol Corp. for nearly 12 years. "I certainly wouldn't have gone for the idea of being executor if I had known all of that."

Onderisin held a small memorial service for the man he knew as Joseph Chandler this fall, interring his remains in a columbarium at Riverside Cemetery in Painesville Township.

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